One of the biggest trends in the world of iGaming is the rise of mobile usage. Fans of casino table games, video slots and online poker are increasingly using smartphones and tablet devices to play their favorite games at their convenience, without the need to venture to land-based establishments. According to the U.K. Gambling Commission, the number of people that used a mobile device to place a wager rose to 51 percent in 2017.
With more than half of all British iGamers going mobile, it's a trend that is also felt elsewhere around the world. The global iGaming industry is forecast to be worth almost $60 billion by the turn of the next decade, with sports wagering markets and casino games available on mobile driving most revenues. The online poker industry has also become increasingly mobile. Even the latest blockchain-powered poker rooms that accept cryptocurrency as payment at the tables are now available on Android and iOS devices. So, what are the driving factors behind the appeal of using smartphones to play for real money?
The Rise of HTML5 Technology
Ask any budding gamer today what makes a great mobile game and they will tell you slick graphics and audio. Gaming has come a long way since the days of Pong and Space Invaders. Today's iGaming brands can provide the best possible user experiences on mobile devices, thanks to the implementation of HTML5 technology, transcending desktop, laptop, smartphone and tablet devices that provide consistent gaming action on all platforms. Prior to the arrival of HTML5, Flash-based casino games were commonplace, but their resource-heavy nature was not beneficial for a slick mobile experience. HTML5 technology has enabled iGaming software developers to seamlessly translate their most successful iGaming titles from the desktop onto mobile devices.
24/7 Access Ideal for Gaming on the Go
It's also crucial to acknowledge the increased accessibility of iGaming on mobile devices. The ability to download and log in to an iGaming app on a smartphone or tablet means that gamers can sit down at their favorite table games or video slots at any time of the day or night. Such 24/7 accessibility also means players no longer need to venture to land-based casinos as much, opting to play on mobile devices from the comfort of the living room, on an early morning commute or on a lunch break at work.
Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Could Take iGaming to Another Dimension
Advancements to the quality of live-streaming technology in recent years has enabled iGaming brands to offer live dealer table games managed by professionally trained human dealers. Doing so offers players similar levels of interaction and engagement they would get from a night in a brick-and-mortar casino. Technology is evolving at a rapid rate right now, and the next generation of iGaming is already in the making. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is being developed for mobile devices to transport players to virtual casino environments and create sensory gaming experiences on another dimension to what's available today online. Smartphones' compatibility with AR and VR will stand mobile devices in good stead to cement themselves as the market leader for immersive iGaming in the years to come.
In the new decade, iGaming is expected to grow despite its legally grey status in many jurisdictions. According to the Superdata industry report, throughout 2019, free mobile games alone collected $87.1 billion, achieving a 6% yearly growth. Many of these games include iGaming titles, such as free casino slots, as well as legal gambling in countries that allow it within their borders.
The iGaming has been growing since the early 2000s when game developers and casinos started experimenting with applications and simplified versions of popular table games like poker. Today, mobile apps are surpassing PCs and consoles in player base and revenue, urging new companies to join the market and push technology further.
Let's explore these trends in more detail.
Mobile Gaming Rise
According to the Superdata report, mobile digital games now account for 60% of global gaming revenues ($64.4 billion), followed by PC ($29.6 billion) and Console ($15.4 billion) markets. In comparison, only the casino gambling market earner more than $41.7 billion, not considering other gambling sectors. As most populations gain easy access to mobile devices everywhere in the world, the share of mobile games is only expected to grow.
Virtual and Augmented reality gaming isn't exclusive to desktops and consoles anymore. Companies such as Oculus, Samsung, Sony, and others are introducing Virtual Reality headsets that plug into mobile phones and work with native applications. Even the latest technological advances get more exposure, reach, and market penetration by catering to mobile gamers.
There is a complicated debate about where «gaming» ends and «gambling» begins with such apps. Different countries have their responses to this question. Regulatory barriers restrict games that enable real money wagers and classify them under Gambling laws. However, some countries go further than others. Practices such as random rewards, loot boxes, micro-payments, etc. - all of these can fall on either side of the law.
In the United Kingdom, the Gambling Commission regulates explicitly only titles with «prizes that are money or money's worth. » If a social casino or mobile slot game uses a virtual currency, it doesn't count as gambling - which is the same approach most state legislators in the United States go with. This legally narrow definition restricts iGaming and online betting, creating a market that blurs the line whenever it can afford to do so.
It makes it challenging to separate iGaming from free-to-play mobile games - in the eyes of many lawmakers, a «social casino» with virtual bets is no different from a title like Fortnite. In the massive growth of the mobile app market, there is no exact distinction between iGaming titles such as slot machines and poker or idle games, RPGs, arcade games, and so on.
Expectations for iGaming keep growing much more rapidly than most other markets. While traditional slot machines could please casino goers for decades, it took online markets several years to move past that into arcade-like games. Nowadays, they begin licensing games after famous movies and TV shows and generally develop more player-centric experiences. This trend is called Gamification, and it includes:
Level systems. Giving players a way to raise their profile with in-game challenges.
Achievements. Rewards and badges tied to specific activities.
Leaderboards. Tallying user scores and rewarding top players.
Tournaments. Organized events, whether by organizations or players themselves.
These can also be rewards for continual play, logging in, solving puzzles, etc. Mechanics usually tie into each other and exist in real money casino games as well as regular Free-to-Play titles, further blurring regulatory lines.
Traditional reel-spinning has been substituted for games with stories and improved graphics. Regular Vegas-style video slots have been reworked into Bejeweled-style cascading symbols and arcade mechanics. Skill plays a factor in bonus games and regular play, changing the way players used to think about casino machines and table games of the past.
Free-to-play mobile games can be downloaded and played for free, with certain bonus features or cosmetics locked behind a virtual currency. They often include «ad walls» - having players watch advertisements that can be skipped by paying a subscription or single fee. Sometimes ads are tied to virtual currency, and other times they gate parts of the game or show up at random intervals.
Such titles are so popular with developers that they make up 94% of all mobile games on the market. The 6% yearly growth of the market suggests this trend will only continue into the next decade, with future non-gaming applications and games everywhere adopting this advertisement-powered business model.
In mobile casino applications, these are free slot games with no download no registration in instant play. They always include free spins, play with no deposit, come with bonus features, and no sign-up and email requirement. New video slots, Vegas slots, and fruit machines can be played now with jackpots. It's impossible to win real money or prizes in free for fun games, but top Google Play applications in the UK, Ireland, and France allow gambling for real money.
The iGaming trends going into the 2020s look as follows:
Catching up regulations. This trend is controversial with industry analysts. Some claim regulations will become more streamlined as governments worldwide learn to understand and accept mobile gaming. Others expect it to become more challenging to create new games and push them on the market once laws in different jurisdictions become harsher. Either way, the market will see many rounds of changing legislations before it settles on a single gold standard of where the «gambling» line is drawn.
Technology penetration. VR games, Live Casino applications, and arcade skill-based slots have already been created. The 2010s were all about innovation, while the 2020s will be about penetration and acceptance. New types of games and ways to experience them will become widely available on the markets, with VR headsets getting cheaper and skill-based slots becoming prominent. As the market grows, so will the number of licenses and cross-platform compatibility. The iGaming will consolidate in a way, with players only using a few top platforms.
Blockchain & Cryptocurrency support. Online casinos already accept Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies - the 2020s will expand this trend into mobile markets. As Blockchain technology spreads, so rewards and Smart Contracts will be based on it. Casinos, developers, as well as organizations, will create their tokens and reward systems based on Blockchain technology, potentially exchanging them for real money through emerging mobile wallets and automatic conversions. This process will also depend on cryptocurrency regulations in various countries and can be sped up or hindered depending on decisions made by lawmakers.
Continued growth. All of the above trends, as well as industry statistics, support projections between 5-10% yearly growth for the iGaming and mobile games industry. Even if new regulatory barriers are erected, the global nature of mobile applications makes it difficult to implement it at this time.
Privacy & Safety
Online and mobile security is continually improving due to the standardization of technology and the use of licensed software. Developers can now white-label solutions from top security companies instead of developing their own, making apps safer. Moreover, games cannot be put on a digital storefront without adhering to modern security standards.
Google and Apple enforce such standards on their stores - they safeguard credit card information and personal data from third parties. Mobile games have less complexity in development than PC video games, making them inherently easier to secure on the user and developer ends.
These Privacy & Safety improvements also benefit from Blockchain technology and overall lead to a more predictable market for gamers and companies alike.